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An expert problem solver

focusing on stopping MS progression

By Lisa Burling, LBPR

American composer Duke Ellington famously said “A problem is a chance for you to do your best”, a sentiment certainly shared by Associate Professor Peter Crouch in the Department of Pharmacology & Therapeutics at Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry & Health Sciences at The University of Melbourne.

A/Prof Peter Crouch (left) and his colleague Dr James Hilton

“I think every scientist is naturally drawn to problem solving and that’s definitely true of me.  I love the opportunity to get my teeth stuck into problems to solve and really enjoy the scientific process of coming up with ideas then testing their veracity with the right experiments.  I’d be happy trying to solve relatively esoteric problems, but when there’s a real need out there for the answers that we’re trying to generate, that really gives me the extra drive.”

A/Prof Crouch’s research into Multiple Sclerosis (MS) focuses on the progression of the disease, so his ambition and that of his team is to develop the drug that stops the progression. 

“Obviously, the ultimate goal for progressive MS would be to find the treatment that is completely restorative, but I think finding the drug that can stop worsening of symptoms would be a pretty good start,” he says.

Currently working on a three-year project, supported by the Trish MS Research Foundation and MS Research Australia, that aims to better understand the role of the micronutrient copper in progressive MS, A/Prof Crouch and his fellow researchers are aiming to better understand the extent of copper-related changes in human, progressive MS tissue and to explore the full potential of their therapeutic strategy.

“Copper is essential for all forms of life; in people it is needed in every cell throughout the body.  Prior to starting this project we had identified that the natural requirement for copper is shifted in progressive forms of MS and that a copper-containing compound provides positive therapeutic outcomes in animal models of MS,” he explains.

It’s often said that whatever you liked doing as a child is a nudge from your soul as to what you should pursue as a career – do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life! Wisely, A/Prof Crouch took this approach when considering going to university and choosing his degree. 

“I thought about the subjects at high school that I enjoyed the most and I always enjoyed biology, so when I started looking into courses available at different universities I was immediately keen on the course offered at La Trobe University where I could do pure biology for the whole three-year degree.  I loved every minute of it, and when I found out that you could become a professional scientist via Honours then a PhD, I knew I’d found the career for me.  I’ve been working in labs full-time since 1997, and I still love every minute of it.”

Although no day is “typical”, A/Prof Crouch feels comfortable wearing a lab coat and loves being in the lab.  His ideal day involves getting to work super early in the morning, going straight into the lab, then spend the entire day in the lab doing experiments. A common theme is doing what needs to be done so that his team can keep doing the lab work as there’s a lot that needs to be done just to keep the lab operational and to maintain the work flow:  “If I can do as much as possible to ensure that the people in my team keep generating data, that’s a good thing.”

That said, career highlights for A/Prof Crouch go well beyond the lab and across borders. “I have had the opportunity to meet people across the globe; a few jars of beer and a bit of science talk is pretty nice, and being able to do it in amazing places like Tokyo, Padova, Taipei or Glasgow is definitely enjoyable.”

He adds that highlights are always those moments when his work and that of his team is validated: “Making a new discovery is great, but having an independent group validate your findings is very rewarding.”

A/Prof Crouch also highlights the role of collaboration in achieving success in his research projects, including those centred on MS: “We’re very fortunate to have direct access to some pretty amazing technical resources, as well as some very talented scientists and clinicians, not just in neuroscience and neurology, but across many different disciplines. The work we do extends well beyond my immediate team, so if we’re successful in our endeavours, our success will come from the collaborative partnerships that we’ve formed, not just the experiments that are done within my lab.”

With a family made up of his beautiful wife and two kids, and an old cat who’s now blind, outside of work A/Prof Crouch is a self-confessed home-body. 

“I really enjoy rainy days at home when we all get cosy inside and spend some quality time together.  But if we were to venture out and about, camping trips are always a favourite, especially in amongst tall trees. In summer, my favourite, self-indulgent, spare time activity is listening to test match cricket on the radio.”

Trish Foundation & MS Research Australia Working together to find a cure for MS
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